Over on our main site, Christopher Orlet argues that “it now seems undeniable that religion played the key role in Mitt Romney’s failure to win the Republican nomination or, for that matter, to finish a close second.” Orlet reaches this conclusion by cherry picking a few examples of low level anti-Mormon quotes and offering little else.
Let us not forget that Romney snapped his fingers before the election and decided to become a conservative by switching his positions on a litany of key issues, even though his past record was moderate. There were endless gaffes throughout the campaign in which he reinforced the well-earned perception that he would say anything to get elected–from describing himself as a lifelong hunter even though he had hunted only twice, for saying he watched his father march with MLK, for claiming an endorsement of the NRA he never received, etc.
He also failed to emotionally connect with voters. I would go to Romney speeches all year, and talk to audience members after who would tell me they agreed with what he said, but he was “too slick” and “too packaged.” It never ceased to amaze me how emotionally tone deaf he was as a candidate, most notable was when he said his sons were serving their country by working to get him elected. I went to a townhall meeting just days before the New Hampshire primary in which a woman said her 26-year old cousin had been paralyzed in a rugby accident, and she asked Romney for his position on stem cell research. Romney responded, “Great, thank you for the question” and he went on with a textbook answer about pluripotent cells without offering any sympathy. Romney’s checklist conservatism appealed to desperate conservatives on a cerebral level, but he never reached people emotionally as Huckabee and McCain did. If you want to know why McCain beat Romney, look no further than the final debate between them at the Reagan Library. When they were asked why Reagan would endorse them, Romney recited a laundry list of issues on which Reagan would have agreed with him, while McCain spoke movingly of the importance of having strength of conviction, and how Reagan was attacked when he deployed missiles in Europe just as he was attacked when he was out front defending the surge. McCain formed an emotional bond with voters, and Romney didn’t. And a lot of people want to have an emotional relationship with who they vote for. More importantly, if they like somebody personally, they’re much more willing to overlook their faults or petty issues like a candidate’s religion.
Orlet also writes:
I wouldn’t say that Romney had the “solid backing” of conservative pundits and politicians. A lot of conservative pundits had been reporting on Romney’s flip flops all year, and Senators such as Sam Brownback and Tom Coburn endorsed McCain. To be sure, Romney certainly had his boosters on the right, but he wasn’t able to consolidate conservative support soon enough. Romney may have eventually received the backing of talk show hosts and pundits when it became clear it would be him or McCain, but they didn’t line up behind him until the very end of the campaign, and by then it was too late. Also, let us not forget that talk show hosts and pundits don’t speak for the entire Republican electorate.
I wouldn’t deny that some people refused to vote for Romney because he was a Mormon–just as some people didn’t vote for John McCain because they thought he was too old, and some people didn’t vote for Mike Huckabee because he’s a Baptist minister. But if Romney’s record were as conservative as his rhetoric, or if he came across as a bit more human, he would have walked away with the nomination, regardless of his religion.